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A designer’s guide to holiday entertaining

Jean Lee and Dylan Davis of Ladies & Gentlemen Studio make their gatherings interactive, informal, and creative

Jean Lee and Dylan Davis of the inventive design practice Ladies & Gentlemen Studio don’t think of their Red Hook, Brooklyn, workspace as a separate entity from where they live, even though the two spaces are blocks apart. They see the studio as an extension of their living room, a place not only in which they can design and spec out their products—which range from leggy chandeliers and playful mobiles to Shaker-inspired desks and geometric desk organizers—but also into which they can invite their fellow creatives to celebrate throughout the year, particularly during the holiday season.

“It’s a great space to host meals and it’s bigger than our apartment,” says Lee, laughing. “It’s like an extension of our home.”

Lee and Davis invited Curbed over to their studio, a few short blocks from the harbor, for one of their evenings in with friends, during which they shared their perspectives on entertaining, how to get people involved in cooking, and why they don’t play music that’s all jingle bells and sleigh rides.

In the foreground, a table with some appetizers on it, oranges, a cheeseboard and fruit. Behind the table is a wall with shelves full of different objects, and next to the shelf is a sliding door to a room containing a fireplace.
The main feature that drew Lee and Davis to the pre-Civil War building in which their studio resides was the structure’s pedigree, but surprisingly, the studio itself also came with a fireplace. The studio’s two distinct spaces, separated by a sliding screen, make hosting workshops, dinners, and gatherings possible. Lee says that the Vitsoe shelving system is “the perfect design that’s versatile for both a home or office setting.” It allows them to display decorative objects, as well as prototypes and samples. The Wave glass pitcher is by Sophie Lou Jacobsen, and the marble candleholders and bowl are by FS Objects.

Home isn’t always where you sleep

When Lee and Davis moved to New York from Seattle in 2015, they landed in landlocked Ridgewood, Queens. Lee says until then, she didn’t realize how much she needed to see “water or some sort of nature” nearby, but hoped the feeling might subside, chalking it up to the transition from the West to the East Coast. But the moment they heard about an available studio closer to the water in Red Hook, Brooklyn, they decided to uproot again. It was the right move.

“From the moment we arrived, everything instantly felt right for us,” Lee remembers. They found that the industrial, fisherman’s wharf vibes of Red Hook suited their style and brought to mind the Pacific Northwest, and they were lucky to get a new space with unique details. The main feature that drew them to the pre-Civil War building was the structure’s pedigree, but surprisingly, the studio itself also came with a fireplace. Their nearby apartment in the Columbia Street Waterfront District provided more distance between work and life than they had had in Seattle, but it was close enough to make hosting workshops, dinners, and gatherings at the studio a reality.

Dylan and a friend crouched down by the fire grilling kabobs and vegetables.
“People can just grill [kebabs] themselves and dip them into the fondue or not,” Lee says. She likens the activity to another favorite dinner: hot pot. “It’s very comfortable, a shared type of experience.”
Lee and Davis sitting in front of their lit fireplace.
Lee and Davis in front of the fireplace in their Red Hook studio.

Interactive dining

The fireplace, originally used to heat the building, now serves as a centerpiece to the entertaining Lee and Davis do at the studio. Lee says that during winter, they have as many cookout meals as possible.

“This element of being reminded of the simple things makes us appreciate the coziness of a fire or a campfire feeling,” Lee says, adding that when people come over for the first time, they are delighted by its presence.

An easy entertaining go-to for them is the combination of fondue and kebabs, which are grilled over the fireplace. With little prep beyond adding meat and vegetables to sticks and melting cheese, it’s the kind of straightforward meal that makes having people over feel more manageable. The immediacy and simplicity of the dishes attracts Lee, and she notes that it’s also a fun, hands-on experience for guests.

“People can just grill [kebabs] themselves and dip them into the fondue or not,” she says. She likens the activity to another favorite dinner: hot pot. “It’s very comfortable, a shared type of experience.”

In Red Hook, Lee and Davis live among a community of artists who often populate their table, with creatives joining from other parts of the city as well.

Invite people who inspire you—and others

In Red Hook, Lee and Davis live among a community of artists who often populate their table. Creatives across the city, like graphic designer Anh Tuan Pham, architect Aleksey Lukyanov-Cherny, interior designer Nick Spain, or an alum of their studio, Sophie Lou Jacobsen, are also frequent guests. “Sophie was part of our studio and then she started her own studio over the summer,” Lee explains, adding that a set of glassware that Jacobson recently launched has been put into rotation on their table.

A long rectangular table in front of a fireplace. Chairs and stools surround the table, and it has candles and a fondue pot on it.
Aura Lights by Ladies & Gentlemen Studio hang over the fireplace, with a Shaker Peg rail and shelf by Tom Bonamici to the right. Many pieces around the fireplace are part of a project called Furnishing Utopia, for which a global collective of artists explores how “design values are interconnected across cultures and time.”

Sawhorses, ply, and paper make for easy tables

Since the space is a functioning studio, Lee and Davis use furniture that can expand and contract to fit their needs. They use items that can easily be stored for when they are needed: Plywood tops sawhorses, made from leftover parts of their existing furniture, to create a table for dinner parties. Stacking stools are stored when not in use, and butcher paper is used to cover plywood and makes for easy cleanup. It’s important for the space to be able to work for leisure activities, like hosting, as well as for professional needs, from meetings to designing.

“We make use of what we have around,” Lee says. “That looseness also leads to different types of creative processes for us.”

Two wooden shelves, with various colored plates, bowls, mugs and pitcher.
A shelf of items for entertaining and dining, from Lee’s beloved collection of Russel Wright plates and Kaj Franck enamel bowls to Sophie Lou Jacobsen’s Wave pitcher and a Recreation Center coffee dripper.

Set an informal table but make the items count

Lee’s collection of vintage Russel Wright dishes keeps the tabletop relaxed but also brings character, and she says their colors—dusty rose, ochre, gray, powder blue, and more—coordinate with what they often use in their studio practice. Marble trivets and candleholders, by FS Objects, grace their table, too, but very little else does besides the centerpiece: mountains of fresh fruit and vegetables to grill and/or snack on.

A corner of Ladies & Gentlemen Studio, has a light fixture attached to the wall that has a green background and brass and a round glass shade. There are a number of plants on the floor and a shelf with objects.
Lee and Davis add warmth and intimacy in the studio by populating it with plants (a skylight keeps them happy), art, prototypes, and found objects, tucked into corners or displayed on open shelving.

Recipe for Ginger Hot Toddy

Serves: 8-10

  • 12 cups water
  • 3-6 inches fresh ginger, sliced (add based on preference)
  • 2 lemons (1 cut in half, 1 cut in slices)
  • 1/8-1/4 cup honey
  • whiskey or bourbon
  • 1 cup cranberries (optional)

To make the Ginger Hot Toddy: Slice the ginger into large slices, about 1/4-inch thick. Throw the slices into a pot of boiling water and boil for about 15 to 20 minutes. Lower to a simmer, then cut 1 lemon in half and squeeze the juice into the water. Then add both lemon halves to the pot. Add honey and mix well. Add 1/2 cup of fresh cranberries to add more tartness to the flavor (optional). Add a slice of lemon and a thin slice of ginger to each serving cup. Pour in 1 to 1-1/2 ounces of bourbon or whiskey. Add the ginger tea, and garnish with a few fresh cranberries. Serve.

Hot drinks make things cozier (art and plants do, too)

The setup is “pretty casual” when it comes to drinks, says Lee. They’ll often have a bar arranged for people to help themselves. But what she does always like to have on offer in the winter is an easily scaled cocktail that doesn’t require too many ingredients, like mulled wine or a hot toddy. Her version of the hot toddy incorporates brandy or bourbon, hot water, and ginger or ginger tea.

They also up the sense of warmth and intimacy by populating the studio with plants (a skylight keeps them happy), art, and found objects, tucked into corners or displayed on open shelving.

No need for holiday music

Lee says they don’t plan playlists, and that they tend toward non-holiday albums or artists, opting for more delicate, calming music or a mix of Japanese musicians and composers, like Haruomi Hosono, Masakatsu Takagi, Hiroshi Yoshimura, Yasuaki Shimizu, and Yuichiro Fujimoto. “It reminds me of quiet snow days when things feels calm and still,” Lee says.

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